Why We Need to Think About the Global Middle Ages
By Peter Frankopan
Journal of Medieval Worlds, Vol.1:1 (2019)
Abstract: Medieval history has become synonymous with the study of western Europe. This article argues that it is important to widen the geographic focus to better understand the Middle Ages as a whole, and in doing so, counter Eurocentric views of the past that have dominated and shaped views of the past. At a time of profound global change today, it is worth reflecting on how and why other regions and cultures have been pushed into the shadows, and why it is imperative to show them now in new light
Introduction: Time, wrote Anna Komnene in the mid-12th century, flies by irresistibly, sweeping up events as they take place and plunging them into darkness. There is only one defence against the great stream of time, she writes. The “science of history” checks the irresistible flood, preventing the past from disappearing for ever and stopping it from slipping away into the depths of oblivion.
These words, which appear in The Alexiad, one of the jewels of Byzantine literature, written in the imperial capital of Constantinople, serve as fitting inspiration for any historian wishing to reflect on the importance of looking at the past and on the purpose of history. To judge from the robust state of contemporary scholarship on the Middle Ages, a great deal of light is being shined on the events, peoples, and culture that took place, lived, and thrived in the period often broadly defined as spanning between 500-1500.
Top Image: 16th century stylized world map in the shape of a clover-leaf (the three classical continents of Europe, Asia, Africa), with Jerusalem at the center